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THE WHITE ROSE: A POEM FOR RICHARD

Several years ago I was out at Bosworth to attend an author signing with one of my favourite Ricardian authors, Sharon Penman, who wrote the mighty epic The Sunne in Splendour. We were staying in the Royal Arms at Sutton Cheney, which has a public room filled with armour, memorabilia, paintings of the battle and of Richard and Tudor (I put the latter at my back!)

Our room was in an annexe that looked out over the fields. The light was grey, heavy; the soil of the field, newly ploughed, glistening after rain, looked red. Redemore. The Red Plain. In the distance the hedges wore little crowns of mist, and a single dark-winged crow sat on the fence, its shrill cry breaking a strange stillness. A haunting place.

We went to bed. In the night we heard rain drumming on the roof. We turned over,slept.  In the early hours of the morning,  I was woken by a ruckus overhead. There was crashes and bangs as if someone, or more like multiple someones, were streaming, charging over the roof of the building. I began to fancy them as hoofbeats and laughed at myself and my infamous imagination.  It must surely be the hotel staff doing something in a room above us…but why the heck were they doing it pre-dawn when they had guests?

The sounds clattered away into nothingess. I went back to sleep. Later, when  we got up and went to pack our things in the car, I looked back towards the building.

There was no upstairs room above ours.

This poem came out of that night….

THE WHITE ROSE

I walked upon Bosworth field,
the soil red beneath my feet
as rain pelted from a stormy sky
in a grey and stony sheet

Sutton Cheney’s stolid tower
was an upturned bucket in the mist
and the whole rolling landscape
a haunted vista twilight kissed.

Why do I feel such strangling sorrow
in that lonely, empty space
where amongst the bristling hedges
the small birds dart and race

soaring like souls into a sky
unchanged by the passing years,
still on this sullen summer’s day
pouring out its bitter tears.

I found a crooked, winding path
that crossed a farmer’s land…
so plain and oh so ordinary
you might dismiss it out of hand

But I knew that here was the place
where a banner once soared on high,
and a White Boar fighting rose and fell,
a betrayed man consigned to die

So history was written
and legends false and foul were born,
birthed out of blood and treachery
on a red-tinged summer’s morn

The victor writes the pages,
speechless dead cannot defend
but I swore I would speak for him
both now and till the end.

And when I returned later
to my little rented room
at midnight I heard thunder
like a banging drum of doom

or was it something greater
that tore across the brooding sky,
passing in flashes over Bosworth…
what does it really mean to die?

Westward like winter’s geese
I saw pale horsemen flying
while the echoes of ghostly horns,
drifted outward, fading, dying….

And on the rain-bright road
its petals teared with icy rain
lay a perfect snow-white rose…
King Richard rides again.

J.P. Reedman

 

Art by Frances Quinn

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Fancy a Richard III coin in your collection…?

Richard coin

Richard’s coins are, inevitably, rare. He didn’t reign long enough for there to be all that many. However, one of his “long cross pennies” is up for auction, and can be viewed from noon, Monday, 4th September 2017, at the Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3DW.

Cheque books and plastic at the ready, ladies and gentlemen? At the very least, scuttle along there and take a peek.

 

Unlocking the secrets of the Black Prince’s effigy

Unlocking the secrets of the Black Prince’s effigy

A team of scientists and art historians has been attempting to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the Black Prince’s tomb. In this short video you can find out what they were up to and what they are hoping to discover.

This investigation is one of a number of research papers and talks that are being prepared for The Black Prince: Man, Mortality & Myth conference on 16 and 17 November 2017. You can find out more about the conference here: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/blackprinceconference/

There will also be a free #YoungFutures conference in the build up to the event for 16-25 year olds. For more information visit: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/youngfutures2017/

#BlackPrince

Canterbury

Richard as a toby jug….!

Toby Jugs

Toby jugs

I love toby jugs. My grandmother had a lot of them, in all sizes. They were proper toby jugs, of course, in three-corner hats and 18th-century clothing. In fact, everyone seemed to have at least one of them when I was growing up. Every mantelpiece sported a rotund toby.

Now, of course, toby jugs aren’t as common, nor are they dressed in three-cornered hats. These days you can even get Richard III toby jugs. Well, they’ve been around some time, of course, and as all sorts of other figures.

I don’t think I fancy Shylock lurking on my mantelpiece, but Richard can sit there any time he wants!

See here and here.

The monarchs of Bradford City Hall….

Bradford City Hall

The exterior of Bradford City Hall is adorned with sculptural interpretations of the kings of England. There are forty of them, from William I to Queen Victoria. The website indicated below gives a brief description of each one.

So, let us examine the likeness and description of the four kings of concern to us, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. Please note, there was no Edward V, but then, I suppose he was never crowned, so never officially became king.

We’ll begin with Henry VI, who appears to be beloved of Bradford pigeons.

bradfordthhenry6

King Henry VI (1422-1461, 1470-1471). The statue shows an austere figure in tight-fitting clothes under a dressing-gown like outer robe, one hand holding a sceptre, the other hand on his hip. His crown looks more like a mitre. The focus of the piece seems mainly on his long right leg.”

To be sure, those knee breeches look more late 18th/early 19th century than 15th. The barely-tied dressing robe and awkward leg rather complete the likeness of Lord Byron. Austere? No. Possessed of that purposeful chin? Not according to his portraits. And the pose is more vigorous than poor Henry was in his entire unhappy life!

Next we have a fine figure of Edward IV.

bradfordthedward4

King Edward IV (1461-1470, 1471-1483). The king is shown in plate armour, but has none of the muscularity of the statue of Henry V. One hand rests on the pommel of his sword, the other holds perhaps a scroll. The face is round and not youthful, and he wears no helm, suggesting he is posed in armour rather than likely to fight in it. He does not wear his crown either; it is on a tasselled cushion on a pedestal half behind him; the decoration of the pedestal with a carved olive branch indicates his peaceful rather than warlike intent.”

He is in armour, but has Beethoven’s head., and looks far too old to be Edward when he was able to squeeze glamorously into any armour. Because, as a young king, he was glamorous. As for being peaceful and unlikely to fight in armour, Edward may have gone to seed latterly, but had been one heck of a warrior. So we can dispense with the olive branch!

Now we come to Richard III and his description.

bradfordthrichard3

“King Richard III (1483-1485). Another statue which stands out in quality. He is shown looking downward, wearing a short tunic above and hose on his legs, and a short robe with fur edging. His left hand is almost clenched, and with his right one he is about to draw his sword, which hangs behind him. There is an emphasis on the muscles of his legs and breadth of his raised forearm to indicate his powerful physique, and coupled with the frowning expression, indicates a forceful king.”

Well, those Tudor bloomers don’t look right at all! The sculptor had the Bard’s Richard in mind, methinks. Nor does the San Andreas Fault forehead look right. If he screwed up his face like that all the time, I imagine he’d have a permanent headache. And I’m sorry, but he’s holding the sword in his left hand, while his right hand is in something resembling a fist. As for the powerful physique, well, we all know Richard was a slender man. Yes, he probably had powerful legs, but not as if he’d been on steroids. His legs had to be strong because when wearing armour in battles or jousts, he had to be able to clench his legs to stay on his horse while wielding a sword, lance or battle-axe. Puny legs wouldn’t have been much use. Was he a forceful man? No, he was far too lenient and trusting, and it cost him his life.

Now for Henry VII, who (heh, heh, heh) is covered in green mould!

Bradford HVII

“Henry Tudor (King Henry VII, 1485-1509). The sculptor has chosen to depict the king as a man of peace and religion, wearing long tunic and robe, holding sceptre and orb, the latter with a prominent cross on top. His expression is bleak, more so than his painted portraits would suggest, his face leathery, and on his head is a soft cap rather than a crown, though a heavy chain with medallion hangs prominently on his breast. Henry Tudor was particularly beloved by the Welsh, and there is a statue of him in Cardiff City Hall by Ernest Gillick. That statue is in full plate armour, and depicts a purposeful man striding to meet, or make, his own fate.”

Yes, the bleak and leathery face might do, especially toward the end of his life. A man of peace? Maybe…but only after he’d gone to war by invading England with a French army, killed Richard III through vile treachery and then plonked his scrawny Welsh posterior on the usurped throne. I’m glad to say that, thanks to the remaining Yorkists, it was a long time before his posterior could unclench! A very long time.

If you’d like to see the other thirty-six  monarchs, please go to http://www.speel.me.uk/sculptplaces/bradfordcityhall.htm Or visit Bradford City Hall, of course.

 

 

A tale of John of Gaunt and two sisters….

Chaucer_BellScott - reading to Philippa and Katherine with Gaunt

The above painting by William Bell Scott depicts Chaucer reading to an aging John of Gaunt. The ladies are the two men’s wives, Philippa and Katherine, born de Roët.

Everyone knows that John of Gaunt (1340-1399) had three wives, the last of whom was Katherine Swynford (nee de Roët, 1350-1403), who had been his children’s governess. She then became his mistress (during his second marriage to Costanza of Castile) and finally, in 1396, his third duchess. The last move, was very unpopular at the time, for it was felt Gaunt, a king’s son, had demeaned himself by marrying well below his station…and that she had reached up well above hers.

John of Gaunt

Katherine, married at twelve to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, had a sister, Philippa (c. 1346–c. 1387) who was a damoiselle of the queen, and who by the end of 1366 had been married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, the Geoffrey Chaucer, who was a very close friend of John of Gaunt. Was the Chaucer marriage a love match? After all, at the time he was a mere squire, whereas she was relatively highborn, the daughter of a prominent Hainault family of rich landowners, or so I understand the de Roët sisters’ background to be. The Chaucer union is subject to a lot of speculation.

Let us go back before 1366, before Philippa became Geoffrey’s bride. John of Gaunt is renowned for his interesting private life, as described above, and seems to have been a Plantagenet charmer par excellence. By inheriting the huge wealth and status of the Duchy of Lancaster (through his first wife, Blanche) he was the richest, most influential man in England, especially when his father, Edward III, began to descend into senility. Gaunt had an eye for a beautiful woman, and the suggestion is that the de Roët sisters were both beautiful. I don’t know if they warranted the description, but I doubt very much that they were plain, stodgy dumplings. Men like Gaunt are not drawn to the nondescript.

So, Katherine Swynford was governess to his daughters. At this time her sister Philippa was unmarried, and also the queen’s lady. The queen, another Philippa, was from Hainault too, so I imagine this was a very good reason to have Philippa de Roët close to her. And then there was John of Gaunt, master seducer. The suspicion is that his eye fell upon Philippa first. It wasn’t the done thing to deflower unmarried ladies, and maybe this precluded such an affair in his eyes, except that there are suspicious signs that he broke the rule.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford

He was not a dishonourable man, and took his responsibilities seriously. Dates fit for him to have bedded Philippa and got her in the family way. In September 1366, before leaving for a campaign in Spain, Gaunt granted Philippa a lifetime annuity. It was very generous, and surely he had no reason for doing such a thing. Some present-day thinking is that Gaunt protected her by paying his good friend Chaucer a great deal to marry her. She was to give birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, the appropriate number of months later. Elizabeth would become a nun and enter the prestigious royal Abbey of Barking.

BarkingAbbey-1500- royal abbey

For the rest of his life, Gaunt was especially kind to Elizabeth, who might well have been his daughter. His particular favour to her suggests he knew she was. There were also more gifts, opportunities and annuities to the Chaucers.

Was Gaunt Katherine Swynford’s lover at the same time he was bedding Philippa? That we’ll never know, just as we will never know the truth about his dealings with the latter. All those gifts and favours are suspicious though. Why would Gaunt bestow such bounty upon Philippa? Why continue to be so concerned about her? She was by then a married women. Did the affair continue after she became Chaucer’s wife? Was Chaucer a complacent husband, paid well enough to say nothing and just let his wife get on with it?

Chaucer

Or, as some of you will no doubt tell me, Gaunt did no such thing. The Chaucer marriage was a love match and Gaunt was merely a generous lord. Possibly. Possibly, too, Elizabeth Chaucer was of royal blood.

 

 

INSIDE THE MEDIEVAL MIND: THE WALL PAINTINGS OF NETHER WALLOP

In the small quaint Hampshire village of Nether Wallop, filming location for the BBC’s MISS MARPLE, stands St Andrew’s church, a medieval establishment built on Saxon foundations. From the exterior it looks rather ordinary (save for the strange funerary pyramid in its grounds!) but inside is a glory of wall-paintings dating from the Saxon era to the 15th century.

The Saxon paintings are of the Winchester School, usually only seen in illuminations, and are exceeding rare, unique in the country as being the only wall paintings of this date in situ. Angels frolic over the chancel arch, the survivors of a grander mural which culminated at the centre with Christ in Majesty. (Jesus has now vanished, unfortunately,  leaving just the angels on the sides of the arch.)

Along the rest of the church walls are further paintings from the early to mid-15th century, an eroded St Nicholas of Myrna and a wonderfully  vivid depicture of St George slaying a dragon to rescue the  Princess Cleodolinda. The dragon and George do battle below a tall tower, watched by a well preserved King and Queen, the King looking pleased at George’s prowess and the Queen slightly concerned!

Just down from them is a slightly patchy though very large  figure which gives an insight into medieval religious thought in the 1400’s. It depicts the legends of the Sabbath Breakers and the woes you will bring upon Christ and yourself if you do not rest on the Sabbath as God decreed! Christ’s leg is showed being wounded by an axe and a knife; there are also depictions of other tools of the trade from the 15thc including scales and a quern, among others less discernable.

All or some of the 15thc  wall paintings may have been comissioned by Mary or Maria Gore, an Abbess of Amesbury in Wiltshire. Her brass lies on the floor in the centre of the nave and is a rarity in itself–the only brass of an Abbess  still existing in England.

 

MISS MARPLE

 

Unicorn, Unicorn! Wherefore art thou Unicorn….?

Lady_and_the_unicorn_Sight

Unicorns do not exist. They never have. Well, that is the general consensus. They are mythical beasts, along with the dragon, centaur, phoenix and so on, but in the medieval period the unicorn was believed in. It was thought that to hunt the unicorn was perhaps the greatest hunt of all, surpassing even the white hart. How disappointing it would have been if such a wondrous creature was really only the rhinoceros. As to the numerous superstitious mentions of using unicorn horn to protect from poison and so on, it seems we can be fairly sure that the horn in question was actually that of the narwhal.

There are seven references to the unicorn in the Bible, which tell of the creature being powerful, dangerous, impossible to tame and worthy of respect, but its physical appearance is never mentioned. It is in the Physiologus, an early book of animal stories, which may have been written by a 2nd-century Christian, that a description appears:

“Unicornis the unicorn, which is also called Rhinoceros by the Greeks, is of the following nature. He is a very small animal like a kid, excessively swift, with one horn in the middle of his forehead, and no hunter can catch him. But he can be trapped by the following stratagem. A virgin girl is led to where he lurks, and there she is sent off by herself into the wood. He soon leaps into her lap when he sees her, and embraces her, and hence gets caught.”

So, the Greeks called the unicorn a rhinoceros, but he certainly wasn’t a rhino as we know them now. He sounds more like a small, one-horned goat. Which is not how we imagine rhinos or unicorns. To us, the unicorn is a beautiful white horse, slender and magnificent, with that graceful all-important horn. In the medieval period, he was definitely depicted as a goatlike creature that paid dearly for trusting virgins.

The Unicorn Defends Itself - Cloisters Museum - 1495-1505

Above, in “The Unicorn Defends Itself “(Cloisters Museum), 1495-1505, the unicorn is beginning to resemble a horse, albeit still with cloven hooves and a goat’s beard. He cannot be brought down by spears and arrows alone; it requires hounds to finish him off. And before he succumbs, he finishes off one of the hounds with his deadly horn.

Virgin Mary and unicorn

The story of the unicorn being irresistibly drawn to maidens was widespread, and there are countless illustrations, first with young girls, but gradually with the Virgin Mary, which became awkward for the Church, leading to the Council of Trent (1545-63) drawing up strict guidelines. The unicorn had fallen foul of the rules, and thus fell out of favour too. But it is all imagination, because the unicorn did not exist. Did it?

heraldic unicorn

To learn much more, I recommend an excellent book entitled The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers, which traces the evolution of the unicorn legend and its allegorical symbolism.

 

 

 

Uncle Richard?

richard-iii-huffington

A long time ago, I posted a short article about one of my ancestors, Thomas Snellgrove, who was a portrait artist and painted an actor portraying Richard III. Here is the link.

Portrait of actor playing Richard by Snellgrove

George Frederick Cooke playing Richard III by T.W. Snellgrove

I have been researching my family history for over thirty years and it used to be a very slow and painstaking process. The internet has obviously made things easier and quicker in many ways and I now have some other interesting Ricardian links to report.

I found a probable direct ancestor called Sir Henry Vane, the Younger – I had not heard of him, but discovered that he was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War and was beheaded on Tower Hill after Charles II returned to the throne. Interesting, so I started tracing his family back further and came upon a Vane who had married a lady called Joan Haute. As you probably know, there was a Katherine Haute to whom Richard gave an annuity of £5 and this was considered suggestive of her having been his mistress and mother of one or both of his illegitimate children. I did find a Katherine, married to a James Haute, brother of my ancestor.

I carried on further and found that Joan Haute’s grandfather, Richard, was married to an Elizabeth Tyrrell, brother of James Tyrrell, one of Richard’s henchmen, accused of murdering the ‘Princes in the Tower’ on his orders. It was odd to think I had recently visited the Tyrrell chapel at Gipping and seen the memorials for the Tyrrell family in the church at Stowmarket – how strange that these could be my relatives!  James was executed at the Tower too, by Henry VII.

And Richard Haute’s mother was a Woodville, sister to Richard Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s father. Elizabeth, as we know, was Richard’s sister-in-law (or at least was thought to be until it was found the marriage was invalid).

Sir Henry Vane’s wife was Frances Wray, and I next followed her line back. Her father married Albinia Cecil, great granddaughter to William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. One of his sons (half-brother to my presumed ancestor, Thomas Cecil) was Robert Cecil, who was thought to be the ‘model’ for Shakespeare’s Richard III; he was an unpopular politician of the time and also a hunchback.

Pic of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Thomas Cecil meanwhile was married to a Neville! This was Lady Dorothy Neville, descended from George Neville, brother to Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother! This would make Richard my 1st cousin 17 times removed.

It’s not all good though; there are four connections to the Stafford family, two of which are direct lines to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard and was called by him ‘the most untrue creature living’ – another executed ancestor.  And, of course, via the Nevilles, I would also be related to Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor through the John of Gaunt line. ☹

Another not-so-good link is to the Percy family and thence to Henry Percy, who was lynched by a mob when he tried to raise taxes in Yorkshire, for not supporting Richard at Bosworth.

Yet another is to the Brandon family via the sister of William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s Standard Bearer, whom Richard personally killed at Bosworth. He would be my 16 x great uncle.

Other significant names that I haven’t fully explored yet are: Howard, Harrington, De Vere, Zouche, Somerset, Bourchier and  Clifford.  I haven’t found any Stanleys yet!

One of the Stafford links also leads to Margaret, daughter of George of Clarence and there is another to Margaret Courtenay, whose mother could be Katherine of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (her father married twice and it isn’t known which wife Margaret was born to – the second one was descended from John Neville, brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). These connections would make Richard also my 16 x great uncle. This would mean that one 16 x great uncle (Richard III) killed the other (William Brandon)!

Graham Turner painting of Richard III at Bosworth killing William Brandon

The Battle of Bosworth (Richard III killing William Brandon) by artist Graham Turner, copyright Graham Turner. N.B. Prints and cards of this and many other Ricardian scenes are available – click on the picture above to see.

How convoluted and complicated were the relationships in those days. But it just reveals how, if you can just find one key link into the nobility, you are basically related to them all!! It is also said that nearly all English people are descended from Edward III, so going by my experience (and Danny Dyer’s!) it could be true. I encourage anyone to have a go at researching their family – it is fascinating.

One caveat if you use the internet to do your research though – you have to be careful not to replicate others’ mistakes – I have found Cecily Neville given as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and someone getting married before they were born – I know they married young in those days, but really!

 

 

Cecil image credit: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

A magnificent drawing of Medieval York….

Edwin Ridsdale Tate - Medieval York

Read here to learn about Edwin Ridsdale Tate, the man who created the magnificent drawing above, showing medieval York.

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